I went to Haiti on the 15th of February, 2010 to see my family and to investigate the situation there.

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Thursday, 22 April 2010



On the 28th of February I transcribed the story of Marie-Lynne Jean, the young lady who was at school when the earthquake happened and was under the rubble for three days.

After many weeks of attempting to save her foot, the doctors have decided that it is in her interest to have the foot/leg amputated. She will be flown to Dallas, Texas in the United States to undergo the intervention.

I will keep in touch with Gladys Thomas from the hospital in Haiti in order to keep you updated.


Finally tents have been distributed and the situation is more bearable in the camps. The issue though is still not resolved. These people are going to be living there for quite a while and the tent solution should have been a transition step until proper temporary housing is built. These people might have to, but should not be living in tents for so long. The climate in Haiti is not conducive to this sort of living condition.

Thursday, 18 March 2010

The Real Damage

According to the Inter-American Development Bank, the estimated cost of the damage caused by the earthquake is between $8.1 and $13.9 billion.  Such a figure does tell us that indeed we do need to continue to invest strongly in the rebuilding effort.

As important as it is to focus on this effort, the real damage is one that carries no price tag.  Therefore, we should not only put our energy into the physical rebuilding of the infrastructure.  It is human nature to get to the obvious and sort it out, but often the obvious is not the deepest.  As important as they might be, society is not made up of its buildings.  People are the true resource of a country, people are the true future of a country, and that means people, no matter how able or disabled they might be.

During the interviews that I have held, it’s been brought to my attention that traditionally, the Haitian society has been severely lacking in its understanding and care for the disabled.  If the attitude and worldview in this matter is not widened then even the money spent on buildings will be wasted.  Now more than ever, Haiti will count in its population a great number of disabled members, both physical and mental.  The training and re-educating of both specialist caretakers and the general population’s attitude towards this new segment of the Haitian society is crucial for the country’s future success.

The following video, in a small way, indicates the level of the problem.  I hope it will be an eye opener and a thought provoker.

Tuesday, 9 March 2010

I am back

My trip back took me on a slightly different path.  If you remember I got into Haiti on a bus from the Dominican Republic.  This time I was able to get a ride on a small plane, run by World Vision, from Port-au-Prince to Santo Domingo.  And instead of 6 hours it only took 45 minutes, which was a most welcomed change because I was really tired by the end of my stay.

Of course now, I am experiencing a serious case of jetlag, but my exhaustion was already showing before I left and honestly I felt bad or guilty about that.  You see, I only spent a couple of weeks in Haiti.  Yes, my schedule was packed, most days up at 4:30 to blog and upload pictures. Then I would spend the day out on shoots and doing interviews, travelling on the horrendous roads of Port-au-Prince through the kind of, at times, stand still traffic I have not seen in my travels before.  The uncollected rubbish everywhere I went trespassed on my nasal passages and of course the devastation was heartbreaking.  Back at around six to seven pm, I’d start making notes on my day’s work for an hour or so and review the pictures I would post on my blog.  The evening was usually spent catching up with my parents, my brother, or any other visitor who came that day, followed by bed at around ten or eleven pm, maybe later if I read a little.

Not really a hard schedule but by the end of it I was exhausted.  My exhaustion was not necessarily physical, it was brought on by what I had seen, heard, smelled, and felt; it was a psychological exhaustion.  Thinking about it made me feel for those who were there from day one and have no way out.  And that is a problem.  You see, those of us who go in to help and support do it for two or three weeks at a time.  The aid workers who live in the country have a furlough, every three months depending on the organisation’s rules.  But the Haitians are there, most of them with no way out.  What of their psychological state?  How are they coping?  I know that the immediate need is that of medicine, food and shelter.  But the psychological needs of the population would be overlooked at a serious disadvantage to them and to society in the future.

There are some attempts being made to help parents reach out to their children and help them through the process with programs like “Place Ti Moun” (see short film insert below).  But drop-in centres where people can come and speak to a counsellor need to be part of the rebuilding deal.  More than buildings were crumbled or cracked.  People were as well and a country’s true resources are its people.  If they are overlooked, there will be serious issues to deal with later.

Now That I am back I will not blog on a daily basis.  You know, work, kids… plus I am going through my footage and interviews in order to edit some pieces I hope will give you a better idea of what’s going on and how you can be part of the way forward.  In the meantime enjoy this short montage highlighting the work at “Place Ti Moun”

Sunday, 28 February 2010

I am so glad to be alive!

While visiting Hopital Espoir a young lady caught my attention. The first day I saw her, she was being treated in one of the rooms by a volunteer doctor one of many who came from Germany to handle the amputations that were needed in the wake of the earthquake. That day, I remember she was trying hard not to scream as her head and hand were being dressed. I felt intrusive with my video camera so left the room as quietly as possible. On my return a few days later, I found her in a tent with all the other patients who did not want to remain indoors following the the 4.7 aftershock

This time she was in better spirits and as we chatted I was amazed by her experience. Her name is Marie-Lynn Jean, she was at school when the earthquake hit; this is her story.

Marie-Lynn Jean

" I was at school when it happened. I was sitting there doing my work and I noticed that the chairs started to dance and everyone started to run out. I got up to follow them but the ceiling collapsed on top of us. The school is four storeys high and we were on the second storey, the other storeys all came down on us. I was trapped under the rubble and I could see that many of the other students were dead, they died right away. Some of my friends were still alive but I noticed that each time one would vomit he or she would then die. (She groaned...) This happened on Tuesday. Then people started to come to look for their loved ones and would take the body of that person away. If your parents did not come looking for you, you just stayed there.

At this point there were three of us still alive in the room, that was Wednesday night. I think one of them tried to crawl out but was not rescued and the family of the other one came to get him. I was the only one left with the dead. Later I started to scream and I heard voices some distance away. They asked what's your name. I said Marie-Lynn, they said Marie-Lynn Jean? I said yes and they asked me to give them my parent's phone number.

Some time later my family came and they started to call my name. I was deep under the rubble. I heard my brother saying 'I am touching someone is that you?' I said no you must be touching a dead person. So he kept touching other bodies until I felt him touch me. I said now you have me at this point I heard him step back and he started to sob because he could not help me. A while later some other people came. I was very uncomfortable because I was on my left knee and my right leg was stretched out and I had been like that for three days. My left arm was caught between the legs of a dead body and was already infected as I was already there three days. There was a chair pressing on my head with another dead body on it. That day the electricity came back and my foot was on a naked wire so I got electrocuted but thank God there were people around and they cut the wire quickly.

Gladys and Marie-Lynn.  You can see the spot on her head hurt by the chair

When they finally made their way through, they tried to pull the chair and the body that were on my head by tying a rope on the chair but it was not budging, so they tied the other end to a car and pulled it out. They did the same thing with the dead body between whose legs my arm was caught. At this point I felt a bit more comfortable but I still could not crawl out so they propped up the cement ceiling and lifted it a bit and someone came down to me, put my body on top of his and pulled himself out and rescued me.

My infected arm was black. They put me in a pickup truck and tried to take me to a hospital. The streets were still in chaos. I heard shooting and we had to turn around several times. They tried three different hospitals but there was no space for me so they finally took me to my house. The doctor who lived not far prescribed some IV and a nurse came and put it on for me. My infected arm was getting worse so they wanted the doctor to help further but that doctor did not care about my life, she wanted money. So the people in the neighbourhood collected the amount that was needed they transported me to her place on a door used as a stretcher. When I got there I was still waiting to be seen when my cousin came and said that there is a place called Hopital Espoir (Hope Hospital) and that any one with serious need could go there. So that's how I came to this hospital.

On Monday they told me if I did not have my arm amputated I would die so the next day we had to sign papers and they amputated my arm."

Listening to Marie-Lynn I had to suppress my tears. I kept thinking no one should have to go through this, especially not a girl as young as this. I felt sorry for her and yet she did not look like she felt sorry for herself. Besides the times when she was wincing from pain, there was a lovely smile on her face. She kept saying to Galdys who came to talk to her that she was so thankful to be alive. Before the interview there were talks of transferring her to another hospital because of some complication on her foot. By the time we finished talking she received the good news that she would not be moved but that a specialist would come to her instead. She just shouted for joy and asked Gladys to bend down to her height so that she could give her a kiss.
According to the staff at Espoir, the injured foot will most likely be amputated as well...

I just hope that when my car breaks down, that when the stresses of my “tough life” in England are getting the best of me or that when things don't go my way I'll be able to say like her: "I am so thankful to be alive".

The foot that will be amputated

Daily hand exercise

I am so happy to be alive!

Thursday, 25 February 2010

Off line

I may be off line a few days as I am going to see what is happening in the smaller cities and visit a resort that is doing its part in the effort to help...  I'll be back as soon as possible.

So I cling to my hope

This afternoon I had an interview with Bill Wholbrook Director for Mercy Corp Haiti, who happens to be the first person yet to give me a hopeful insight into the future of the country.  According to Bill, if the earthquake had hit a secondary city it would not have created such chaos both in human loss and in the infrastructure of the place.  Port-au-Prince was the centre of everything: government, industry, education etc…  And people flocked into the capital in search of a better life and the city was not coping with its population of 3 million.

Now that it is levelled, one must then look at the enormous opportunity to turn things around:  “I see an enormous opportunity here and I am extremely hopeful because I think everyone realizes that priority one is the revitalization of the grassroots economy… and the development of the departments (counties) outside Port-au-Prince.  If we can come together as an international community and create real long-term jobs outside of Port-au-Prince … we’ll be able to turn things around.  This is the time, and the international community understands that, to make the necessary investments to turn the country into what the Haitians want to country to be, not what Americans want the country to be, what the Canadians want the country to be, what the French want the country to be…  So I cling to my hope.”

Bill Wholbrook and Special Advisor to the President Mr. Jean Renald Clerisme

After our chat, we were driven with full security details to the inauguration, by First Lady Mrs. Elizabeth Preval, of “Place Ti Moun” (Children’s Park) a psycho-social program through which Mercy Corp and the Dominican Republic government are partnering to offer children from six to ten years old help in returning to a normal life.

First Lady Mrs. Elizabeth Preval

Since January 12 schools have not reopened, and this generation of children has seen more than its fair share of horror.  The secret to turning Haiti around may be to empower the people with skills, training and the creation of jobs aiming to close the gap between the vast uneducated lower class and the tiny upper class, but it is also to equip the poor children so they don’t fall into the same trap as their parents before them.

The work being carried out at “Place Ti Moun” starts with helping parents understand that their kids have been adversely affected by the earthquake and will aim to help them handle the change in behaviour that is already evident, thus avoiding conflicts that would eventually eat away at the already disturbed family unit.  “We’ve seen that in other disaster areas like China and other countries where I have worked and this program does a good job at training parents so they can help in stabilizing the young ones” said Griff Samples, a Psychologist with Mercy Corp.

Children are the future of the country.  So while the immediate need of relief and of creating a better life for the adults of today is important and necessary, ensuring a stable generation of future adults is the key to continuous growth and development from within.

To the question: “How long will rebuilding take?” Bill’s answer was:  “No one knows!”

Indeed no one knows… Yet I hope that a year from now the NGOs will not pull out as has happened so many times before.

Wednesday, 24 February 2010

It's not funny!

Laughter does indeed help people to cope but today I followed my brother, Dr. Reginald Lubin, into the camps where he oversees health and hygiene for World Vision and funny is not how I would describe the plight of the displaced people.

Many of these camps were set up in haste as people abandoned their houses after 12 Jan. Not everyone there lost their homes but the fear of being in a cement block house has driven some to seek refuge there. Again, I understand as this morning we had two more aftershocks, one of them at 1:26 am measuring 4.7 on the Richter scale.

Reorganising these places poses a serious challenge. Coordinating the NGOs hasn’t been easy. As I mentioned in one of my earlier entries, each organization is doing its own thing, at times duplicating work that is already being done. Food distribution is not regular and when it happens a lack of systems and procedure gives way to riots.

Hygiene is nonexistent, clean water needs to be brought in, toilets and showers need to be built and the health issues are a time bomb waiting for the last tick. One of the nurses told me that if mobilization and education of the people is not done quickly, we will soon have to deal with all sorts of epidemic such as dysentery, malaria, scabies, as well as sexually transmitted diseases and a surge in pregnancies followed later on by HIV/AIDS.

To achieve all this, local volunteers, many of them nurses, are partnering with actors and troubadours, teaching, putting on plays and paying personal visits to the tents to answer questions and to encourage them to go to the mobile clinics. According to Dr.Lubin they think they will have to pay, which is not the case. Until they understand that, infections that can otherwise be easily treated will spread and become harder to contain.

Eventually I believe that those who own houses will go back. The issue is with those who have lost everything. What will they do? When will they be relocated? How long before permanent shelters or homes are made available?

Another concern is that of food. An ancient proverb says that “empty stomachs have no ears”, that too is showing to be true as the volunteers report that often their message is not getting through because of the hunger.

I’ve noticed that the main news channels have basically moved on to other fields. Haiti is no longer news; there are no more dead bodies to show. I hope that the people will not be forgotten.
Haiti is a long term project. Rebuilding will take years; it is not a quick fix.

Monday, 22 February 2010

Laughter best medicine

Going around Port-au-Prince Saturday shocked me deeply. Almost all the places I knew in the city centre are gone, my high school, my music school, even my tech college. Many people I knew are gone. I went to look for one of my old friend’s shop. Winding my way through the rubble I finally found it, well, found where it used to be, a multi storey building flat as a pancake.

Yet, one month and one week after the quake, what I saw was VERY mild, really, compared to the sights, the sounds, and the smells of that day! I did not see the streets lined up with stacked up cadavers. I did not see that sobbing dad carrying his dead daughter’s body with desperation in his eyes which seemed to say “can someone change this?” I did not see nor hear crushed and trapped people begging for help, or the trapped man who lost his wife and six children pleading to be left to die. He eventually starved himself to death after his rescue. The stories I hear are horrendously surreal. One man chopped his father’s arm off in order to rescue him from under a wall post.

There are also odd stories of “unlucky” deaths and lucky escapes. This man flew in earlier that afternoon from overseas and instead of going home, met some friends at the Hotel Montana for a drink. The whole thing collapsed on top of him. One of his mates went out for a fag (cigarette for the non brits) and escaped without a scratch, I doubt he’ll be quitting anytime soon. Some of these stories in hindsight are actually funny to the people recounting them. And humour is exactly one of the elements that is helping people to cope.

Someone once said that laughter is the best medicine, according to what I am witnessing there is a lot of truth in this statement. The other night I sat around a table listening to stories of the quake recounted with humour, for a while there I did not get it but then it made sense. Laugh untill you cry and feel better!

Today I experienced my first tremor at 4:36 am. I felt the 4.7 shake and bolted out of the house grabbing, on my way out, my rucksack containing my camera and video equipment, my boots, and my trousers all of which I left by the bed ready for a quick get out. My brother who lived through the initial quake was faster out then me, but totally empty handed. As we stood outside waiting, we looked at each other and burst into laughter; two grown half naked men, one (me) attempting to get dressed while readying his equipment for the eventual crash, the other completely puzzled by the fact that I wasted a precious second grabbing my things.

After a while we did go back in to sleep but now I understand the effect of the quake on the psyche of those who survived it. Now I think hard before entering a big building. As I write the first draft of this copy I am sitting in the conference room of World Vision and I find myself thinking of all possible escape routes. I am checking the table out, making sure it is strong enough to hide under or if the cross beams look solid enough? I don’t appreciate it when people bang on doors causing the slightest of vibrations.

Yesterday Romi told me he will never sleep in a house for the rest of his life. I no longer find that odd, I understand!

Sunday, 21 February 2010

See it!

A tent city with a US navy compound in the background

The main business street in down town Port-au-Prince

Yet, life has to go on

Scavenging for metal to make some money

A lady walking past the National Palace

The Cathedral


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A blind man singing about the situation

This is where I learned to play the violin
Well... tried...

My High school

None of the houses stayed up on this street

Everyone was affected, rich and poor

A Time for Everything

There is a time for everything,

and a season for every activity under heaven:

a time to be born and a time to die,

a time to plant and a time to uproot,

a time to kill and a time to heal,

a time to tear down and a time to build,

a time to weep and a time to laugh,

a time to mourn and a time to dance,

a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,

a time to embrace and a time to refrain,

a time to search and a time to give up,

a time to keep and a time to throw away,

a time to tear and a time to mend,

a time to be silent and a time to speak,

a time to love and a time to hate,

a time for war and a time for peace.

                                                      Ecclesiastes 3:1-8